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Coronavirus: Over 60s in UAE ask for a designated hour at malls to shop and exercise


Too hot to exercise outside and home delivery has week-long delays they argue

Dubai: Lori Dorman is a 60-plus British national running a business in Dubai. For the last 67 days, she has self-isolated herself and keeping in mind all the movement restrictions in place for residents above 60 years for the coronavirus, the only way she manages to get some exercise is to wear her mask and gloves and walk up and down the corridor of the apartment building she lives in and sometimes have a go on the Wii Fit.

While earlier Dorman was able to get a permit for grocery shopping, the new set of restrictions that were announced on April 24 by the Ministry of Health and Prevention and the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA), do not allow that now.

Neither is she allowed to get into the malls. Her friends help her from time to time to deliver essentials, but that is not enough to help her with her daily needs.

For someone as independent as Dorman, the lack of exercise and physical movement has been a huge concern. And although the rules allow exercise for one or two hours outdoors, provided residents do not leave their area of residence and practice safe distancing, the rising temperatures make it difficult to walk outside. “You can go out either very early in the morning at around 6am or very late at about 7pm but it’s not the best solution,” says Dorman.

A solitary confinement

Always used to be doing things for herself, including getting her own groceries and running errands, she feels the solitary confinement imposed by the latest round of restrictions for residents above 60 years of age is both mentally and physically damaging.

“While I understand that it is difficult to contain children who can run around and be at risk, the above 60 age bracket is more responsible and careful about their health. I feel fitter than most 30-year-olds” she says.

“During the last 67 days I have neither seen or gone out with any friends, and I don’t have family here. I have been obeying all rules. But now things are starting to get difficult. My television is on the blink and I need a new pair of reading glasses. It would be nice if supermarkets or malls can have special time allocated so that people of this age group could do their own shopping. It would ensure we could go and get our jobs done and at the same time get a bit of exercise, walking around indoors.”

While Dorman understands that COVID-19 cases are still on the rise, she says, “At 60, many here are still independent, running businesses, and are able to keep both physically and mentally fit. I am ready to obey all rules, stand two metres away from the shop assistant, but this solitary confinement feels like a punishment.”

Trapped in her apartment, living behind a closed door with not too many options for regular exercise, she worries that it can affect her mental health as well.

Blanket ban on age alone be reconsidered

Like Dorman, 65-year-old Jacqui Radford lives with her husband in a one-bedroom apartment in Dubai Marina. The new set of precautionary measures has made it difficult for her to either carry on her regular exercise or even arrange for her meals.

“I can’t go to the mall, I can’t go to the super market, and not even to the corner store. I don’t have a helper, so what should I do about my food?” asks Jacqui.

She has tried ordering home delivery, but is not happy with the quality that gets delivered. “Twice my salad went in the bin and another time I got cold food delivered. I have tried to order groceries online but it takes a week to 10 days to get my order home and then sometimes it has items missing,” she says.

With the weather getting warmer, she also agrees that walking outdoors is not a solution. “It’s much too hot now and I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea if the malls could set a time aside for us to do some walking and get some essential jobs done. For example, I love to read, but now I’m having to order online from bookstores that take three to four weeks to arrive. A certain hour at the mall would definitely help in a lot of ways.”

Jacqui feels that information now suggests individuals who have underlying health issues and obesity are at higher risk for the virus. She suggests that the blanket ban on age alone be reconsidered.

“I suffer from mild arthritis and my doctor at the American Hospital has recommended that I keep up my exercise. But we live in a one-bedroom apartment and it’s impossible to do any walking at home. It would be great if the malls have a think about a designated hour for us.”

Malls following protocol

Malls in the UAE are currently following government protocols keeping in mind health and safety of customers in mind, and are politely refusing entry of those above 60 years.

A statement from MAF malls says, “Persons over the age of 60 years and children aged between 3 and 12 years will not be permitted to enter the mall. Persons over the age of 60 will be asked to declare their age and if necessary, show their ID. The health and wellbeing of our employees, customers, and tenants remains our number one priority and appropriate precautionary measures are in place to help ensure a safer shopping experience for our customers.”

NAT 200510 Navaneeth Sudhakaran_EN-1589177784908
Navaneeth Sudhakaran, General Manager of Al Wahda Mall in Abu DhabiImage Credit: Supplied

In Abu Dhabi, Navaneeth Sudhakaran, General Manager, of the Al Wahda Mall says the mall is open to customers in accordance with guidelines and protocols issued by Department of Health, Abu Dhabi and Department of Economic Development (DED), Abu Dhabi. “For their own safety, the mall is restricting entry of senior citizens over 60 years to enter the mall premises. Regular checks are ongoing and the staff will request to check for a valid ID in case of any doubts. We will await for any intimation from the higher officials to ease the ongoing restrictions. We do understand that the elderly are among the high-risk groups of the population who are susceptible to coronavirus infection and we want to ensure their health and safety,” says Sudhakaran.

Need to be indoors as temperatures rise

Dr. Mona Hegazi, Consultant Family Medicine at Mediclinic City Hospital, agrees that rising temperatures in summer will make it difficult for the above 60 age group to go out for a walk. “It’s being practiced in other countries to open up the malls during the early part of the day so that senior citizens can walk indoors with face masks and gloves, and attend to their shopping and daily needs. That way they can get a bit of exercise. With the weather getting hot, they need to stay indoors and walking around the block or in the garage may not be a good idea.”

What other countries are doing

In countries like the UK, some supermarkets and banks have decided to make special arrangements for elderly and vulnerable customers to gain exclusive early access to food and services, immediately after stores have been deep-cleaned. Iceland too has arranged for stores to keep the first two hours of Wednesday morning free for the elderly and vulnerable only.

Dr Hegazi also feels that long periods of isolation can bring about mental health issues for the elderly, especially those living alone, and it’s important for family members to keep a watch. “They need to keep busy, either by cooking or getting online with family and friends… so ensuring a separate time to visit the supermarket or the mall with social distancing rules in place could be a good idea,” she explains.

Home exercise has its limitations

Sports marketing consultant, Zena Melki, who lives in Dubai says “Mobility restrictions for the over-60 age bracket may be extremely damaging to their ongoing health, particularly the longer this ‘demographic lockdown’ continues,” says Melki.

“Home exercise has its limitations over an extended time and not all people in this demographic will have the sports knowledge or experience to develop or follow at-home fitness regimes. It is important that this demographic maintain physical endurance, joint flexibility and mobility to maintain optimal cardiovascular and respiratory function,” she explains.

Zena Melki with husband Karim
Zena Melki with husband KarimImage Credit: Supplied

Melki also feels that such restrictions that deny this demographic the opportunity to buy groceries and shop breeds dependency which has psychological implications over an extended period.

“My husband for example is 61, while I am 44. We live alone in Dubai. He is far from competent on the computer and would have limited ability to order groceries online or through an app. Luckily he has me to do the shopping weekly and buy any other supplies he needs from the pharmacy etc. But are all over 60’s in Dubai, in that position?” she asks.

Melki’s husband, a former professional footballer, does home workouts daily. “My concerns for him, are more about the psychological implications of this ‘extended lockdown’ for his age group. He does not consider himself elderly, nor do I, but this could take a toll on his mental health, lowering his spirits, confidence and zest for life the longer it continues.”

Both Melki and her husband are extremely proud of the swift and strong approach taken by the UAE to tackle the onset of COVID-19. “The lockdown measures implemented here during March and April, have undoubtedly saved lives and we are proud to live in this country. But the question remains, could there be more of a balance that would continue to protect the most vulnerable while still allowing them some fitness and freedom?”

What can be done:

Solutions suggested by Zena Melki to solve the fitness, independence and grocery issues of the over 60 age group

  • With the reopening of the malls recently, could the first hour of the mall day be designated for shoppers over 60? This would be an opportunity, in the increasing heat, for the over 60’s to walk freely and comfortably, getting much needed exercise.
  • This would be the safest time of day to allow the most vulnerable access to malls, as it would be immediately upon opening, and after the malls have been disinfected overnight before other patrons are allowed entry.
  • Perhaps in this hour, grocery stores within the mall could permit access to this demographic providing additional independence.
  • During this time no children would be given access but the over 60’s shopper could be accompanied by one other adult outside their demographic so long as they are a family member.


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